The pundits and politicians generally take it for granted that President Trump lacks a coherent foreign policy. They believe that he acts solely out of spite, caprice, and political opportunism—lashing out at US allies like Germany’s Angela Merkel and England’s Theresa May only to embrace authoritarian rulers like Russia’s Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. His instinctive rancor and impulsiveness seemed on full display during his recent trip to Europe, where he lambasted Merkel, undercut May, and then, in an extraordinary meeting with Putin, dismissed any concerns over Russian meddling in the 2016 American presidential election (before half-walking his own comments back).
“Nobody knows when Trump is doing international diplomacy and when he is doing election campaigning in Montana,” commented Danish defense minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen following the summit. “It is difficult to decode what policy the American president is promoting. There is a complete unpredictability in this.”
While that reaction may be typical, it’s a mistake to assume that Trump lacks a coherent foreign-policy blueprint. In fact, an examination of his campaign speeches and his actions since entering the Oval Office—including his appearance with Putin—reflect his adherence to a core strategic concept: the urge to establish a tripolar world order, one that was, curiously enough, first envisioned by Russian and Chinese leaders in 1997 and one that they have relentlessly pursued ever since.
Such a tripolar order—in which Russia, China, and the United States would each assume responsibility for maintaining stability within their own respective spheres of influence while cooperating to resolve disputes wherever those spheres overlap—breaks radically with the end-of-the-Cold-War paradigm. During those heady years, the United States was the dominant world power and lorded it over most of the rest of the planet with the aid of its loyal NATO allies.
For Russian and Chinese leaders, such a “unipolar” system was considered anathema. After all, it granted the United States a hegemonic role in world affairs while denying them what they considered their rightful place as America’s equals. Not surprisingly, destroying such a system and replacing it with a tripolar one has been their strategic objective since the late 1990s—and now an American president has zealously embraced that disruptive project as his own.
The Sino-Russian Master Plan
The joint Russian-Chinese project to undermine the unipolar world system was first set in motion when then-Chinese President Jiang Zemin conferred with then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin during a state visit to Moscow in April 1997. Restoring close relations with Russia while building a common front against US global dominance was reportedly the purpose of Jiang’s trip.
“Some are pushing toward a world with one center,” said Yeltsin at the time. “We want the world to be multipolar, to have several focal points. These will form the basis for a new world order.”